Cinefile: Accepted on the continent

As foreign participation in local films increases, so does the number of Israeli films being made.

film reel 88 (photo credit: )
film reel 88
(photo credit: )
While academics in Britain have initiated boycotts of Israel, the European film community is far more welcoming. Just last week, the European Film Academy, a group of 1,800 film professionals throughout Europe, invited Israel to be a member. For several years, Israeli films have received nominations for the European Film Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Film category and even the Best Actress category (Assi Levy was nominated for her role in Stones). But now Israeli filmmakers, in particular the Israeli Academy for Film and Television, will be an integral part of the group and will participate in its conferences, workshops and panels. This is extremely significant because it will help with co-production deals (today, a huge number of Israeli films have some foreign investment), distribution deals and opportunities for Israelis to work abroad. But more than that, Israel's acceptance shows that Israeli filmmakers are respected by their European peers for the industry's recent achievements, particularly prizes at festivals all over the world and the commercial success of Israeli films aborad. Of course, Israeli filmmakers deserve this respect, but receiving it, as we all know, isn't a given. In some ways, Israel's inclusion in the EFA is the inevitable outgrowth of the globalization of the film industry worldwide. Every year, it becomes harder and harder to assign nationalities to many films made all over the world. Flipping through this year's Jerusalem Film Festival program, nearly half of the films are listed as being from more than one country. What this usually means is that one or more of the film's producers and backers are from a different country from where the film has been shot. Many directors work abroad. This year, for example, French director Raphael Nadjari made Tehillim in Jerusalem, with an all-Israeli cast, and the film was in the main competition at Cannes, listed as a French/Israeli co-production. It also competed in the Wolgin Competition for Israeli features at this year's Jerusalem Film Festival. The co-directors of Joint Venture, another Wolgin-nominated film, were also French, even though like Tehillim, Joint Venture was set entirely in Israel. Of the five other Israeli feature films nominated for the Wolgin, The Debt and Strangers take place entirely, or almost entirely, in Europe. Even in the film that is the biggest Israeli box-office success so far this year, Avi Nesher's The Secrets, a major role is played by French star Fanny Ardant. Some have complained that this mixing of nationalities and cultures makes the finished products less authentically Israeli and in some cases, there may be something to this. On the other hand, to quote Katriel Schory, the head of the Israel Film Fund, quantity is quality. We can argue about the theory, but the fact is that, partly due to foreign investment, there are more Israeli films made every year, and there are more good films made here than there once were. Ten or 15 years ago, when there were three or four Israeli feature films made a year, were they better? If you think back, the answer is obvious. IF YOU'RE as addicted to The West Wing as many of us watching those daily reruns on the Hallmark channel are, you'll be happy to hear that the show's creator and main writer, Aaron Sorkin, is at work on the screenplay for a film about the Chicago Seven. It will be produced by DreamWorks and may be directed by Steven Spielberg. Sorkin seems like the ideal person to bring the hyper Abbie Hoffmann to the screen, based on his rapid-fire, dizzily caffeinated West Wing dialogue. Sorkin needs something to do now that his sadly anemic new show, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, has been cancelled. Before that, Sorkin's newest film project, Charlie Wilson's War, starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, will be released in December. It's based on the real-life story of a US congressman who helped the Afghans fight the Soviets. IN ADDITION to the Brazilian film festival, coming up at cinematheques around the country in August, there's something else to look forward to: another Indian Film Festival. Previous Indian Film Festivals took place during the winter, but this year's is starting on August 18 and will run until the end of the month in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. The series is always a real treat and features many films that, unfortunately, will not be released here commercially, so it's your best chance to get a look at contemporary Indian cinema and maybe discover the work of a new Satyajit Ray.